The Number 23 (2007)
On his birthday, Walter Sparrow, an amiable dog-catcher, takes a call that leaves him dog bit and late to pick up his wife. She's browsed in a bookstore, finding a blood-red-covered novel, a murder mystery with numerology that loops constantly around the number 23. The story captivates Walter: he dreams it, he notices aspects of his life that can be rendered by "23," he searches for the author, he stays in the hotel (in room 23) where events in the novel took place, and he begins to believe it was no novel. His wife and son try to help him, sometimes in sympathy, sometimes to protect him. Slowly, with danger to himself and to his family, he closes in on the truth.
Walter Sparrow is a family-man married with Agatha Sparrow, and works catching dogs in the Department of Animal Control and has a teenager son very close to his wife and him. On the day of his birthday, he is bitten by a dog and comes late to meet Agatha. While waiting for him, Agatha buys a detective book with a novel about the mystery around the number 23 in a bookstore as a gift to Walther. He becomes captivated with the story and obsessed with the number 23, finding many coincidences with his own life, and he decides to find the author, believing the story is about him. His further investigation discloses a mysterious situation that makes Walther paranoid.
Family man Walter (Jim Carrey) comes to find a mysterious red clad book that seem to resemble his life in ways he doesn't expect as his obsession with number patterns always coming back to 23 comes to a head he will frighten the ones that he loves. As the story plays out what will he find? Or does he won't to find it at all? Because of what he finds he could be gambling with his life or his sanity.
Walter Sparrow becomes obsessed with a novel that he believes was written about him. As his obsession increases, more and more similarities seem to arise.
- Introduction. The Number 23 (2007) is the story of Walter Sparrow, a man with a shattered childhood who has murdered a woman in a jealous rage, then attempted suicide, failed, recovered without memory of his awful past and of the awful things he had done. Years later, he reads a book that he wrote while insane (though he does not know he was the author while he reads it) that contains the key to his past and to the location of the murdered woman's body. The key is the number 23. Only he can use the key to find the truth, of which he is unaware, a truth that can drive him insane once again. The film portrays his obsession with the number 23 and his gradual discovery of the truth from his contemporary perspective. To accomplish its magic, the film utilizes a multilayered plot:
Layer 1 is the current events in the life of Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey): his relationship with his wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen) and his son Robin (Logan Lerman), a family friend, Isaac French (Danny Huston), and Ned, a black and white bulldog, and most importantly there's his obsession with the number 23;
Layer 2 is the events in the book The Number 23: A Novel of Obsession by Topsy Kretts which Walter is reading - onto its characters Walter projects the people in his life: Himself as Fingerling (a police detective who is the embodiment of Walter's aspirations), himself as Isobel Lydia Hunt (a woman known as the Suicide Blonde who is the embodiment of Walter's tragedies, who witnessed suicide in her own family just as Walter witnessed suicide in his own family, who is driven crazy by the number 23 just as Walter is driven crazy by the number 23, and who subsequently commits suicide just as Walter tried to commit suicide), Agatha as Fabrizia (Fingerling's lover), and Isaac as Dr. Miles Phoenix (the police department's psychiatrist), plus a projection of his mother (Lynn Collins) as the widow Dobkins (a neighbor who committed suicide and whose body Fingerling found when he was eight years old) - in the course of the film and after a few red herrings the viewer discovers that Walter is Topsy Kretts, that the story is his forgotten past, and that he was insane when he wrote it; and
Layer 3 is the actual events from Walter's past which he has suppressed, especially Walter's relationship with and murder of a college student, Laura Tollins (Rhona Mitra), who once jilted him, and with Kyle Flinch (Mark Pellegrino), Laura's psychology professor and lover who was subsequently and wrongfully convicted of her murder and who, in his mind, Walter projects as Isaac. The book contains a message that discloses the location of Laura's corpse but in a form (using the number 23) that only Walter can understand.
Walter's reuse of real people as his projections of the characters in the book and the piece-wise disclosure of Walter's story makes figuring out the plot of The Number 23 (2007) a challenging task.
February 3. It's Walter's birthday. During the last animal control call of the day he's bitten by Ned. He chases the dog but loses it in a graveyard. He sees a gravestone bearing the name of Laura Tollins and is left with a feeling of familiarity as though he knew her (which of course he did but doesn't remember). Walter's brush with Ned causes him to be late picking up Agatha from her cake shop. While she waits for him, Agatha visits a nearby book store and buys a book, The Number 23: A Novel of Obsession by Topsy Kretts, which she gives to Walter. That night, Walter begins reading the book. Chapter 1: In its first paragraph, the book's protagonist, Fingerling, attributes his nickname to a children's book, Fingerling at the Zoo, which Walter remembers well from his own childhood.
February 4. Walter is given the day off by the departmental psychologist who evaluates him following his dog bite. He uses the day to continue reading the book. Chapter 2: Fingerling recounts his childhood. His father wants him to follow in his accounting business but Fingerling wants to be a detective. On his eighth birthday he finds the lady next door dead on her bed, wrists slit. Though the coroner rules it suicide, Fingerling imagines a neighborhood stalker has taken her life. Walter says that his mother died on his eighth birthday and marvels at the coincidence. That night in bed, Walter has his first hallucination: the shadow of a man (himself) with a knife.
February 5. Walter is reading the book in a park. Chapter 5: Fingerling meets the Suicide Blond. She's currently trying on a noose but she's obviously slit her wrists in the past. Fingerling talks her down from her impromptu gallows and learns her story. It is a story of the number 23 and of madness. "Pink is my favorite color. Do you know what pink is? Red 27, white 65 - 65 plus 27, 92 - 'Pink' has four letters - 92 divided by four, twenty-fucking-three!" After Fingerling leaves her apartment, the Suicide Blonde leaps out a window. Later, Fingerling and Fabrizia have wild sex in the Suicide Blond's apartment. It's Fabrizia's idea. At the house, Walter points out to Agatha and Robin the parallels between Fingerling and himself. He points out the 23s in his name, birth date, driver's license, Social Security number, "everything!" Chapter 7: Fingerling binds Fabrizia to a bed and, at her urging, pretends he has a knife at her throat. She loves it. They have more wild sex. In the middle of the night Walter sees more murderous shadows. Then he gets out of bed and counts Agatha's shoes.
February 6. In the morning, Agatha covers Walter as he sleeps on the couch. He's been reading all night, finding more 23s in his life. She finds writing all over his arms and calls Isaac. When he wakes, Walter goes to visit the psychology professor. Isaac reassures Walter, "This is magical thinking, non-scientific causal reasoning. Now you're... you're looking for 23 so you're finding it." Walter is unconvinced. Fingerling sees Miles in his office and the police psychologist puts him on "emotional leave". Without active duty and without his gun, Fingerling is no longer sexually appealing to Fabrizia. She begins an in-plain-sight affair with Miles that humiliates Fingerling. He imagines himself murdering Miles. As he thinks about Miles, the fictional character becomes the real-life Isaac and Walter's book fantasy and his life begin to merge. He sees "23" everywhere as he walks the streets. When he gets to Agatha's shop and sees her talking with Isaac, his paranoia blossoms. Chapter 21: Miles has seduced Fabrizia. Fingerling stumbles across them having sex in the woods. That night Walter wakes with a start and looks at the clock. It reads 11:12. He discovers that he's stabbed Agatha in her sleep. Then he wakes with a start. He's relieved, it was just a bad dream. He looks at the clock. It reads 11:12. Shaken by déja vu, he impulsively leaves the house and drives to the King Edward Hotel for the night. He has left a note: "Ag, I don't want you to be worried. I just need one night to clear my head. Please don't give up on me." He doesn't know why he's at the King Edward. He insists on room 23.
February 7. In the hotel room Walter continues reading the book. Chapter 22: Fabrizia has been murdered. Miles finds her body. He absentmindedly picks up the knife. Later, he is led away in a police car as Fingerling flees the scene. Fingerling's face is spotted with Fabrizia's blood. Back at the hotel, Fingerling takes the final step into madness: he steps out onto the balcony. The book abruptly ends. Walter is perplexed. Then he hears a dog bark. It's Ned. He follows the dog to the graveyard once again, to the grave of Laura Tollins. Walter is beginning to put the pieces together. He returns home with newspaper clippings about Laura's murder and about the fate of Kyle Flinch. He's convinced that Flinch is Topsy Kretts, that the book is actually Flinch's confession.
February 8. Walter confronts Flinch in prison. The man admits to having been Laura's lover but denies having killed her and denies having written the book. Walter believes him because of his apparent sincerity and because the letters of his name do not sum to 23. Robin has an idea for how to flush out Topsy Kretts. That evening, Walter sends 23 empty boxes to the post box that Robin found in the back of the book. That night in bed Agatha tells Walter, "You wouldn't hurt anyone, ever." "How do you know?" he replies.
February 9. Walter, Agatha, and Robin stake out Topsy Kretts's post box. Dr. Sirius Leary (Bud Cort) shows up to claim the boxes, but before Walter can question him, Leary slits his own throat. Leary carries a secret mystery (Walter's book) and a key to that mystery (the number 23) that he didn't know how to use and that has driven him insane. Agatha insists that Walter and Robin go home. Before he dies, Leary tells Agatha of an institute. She finds an identification card in his pocket. He was on the staff of Nathaniel's Institute, Psychiatric Care Facility. That night, after she phones home and denies to Walter that Leary said anything, Agatha goes to the now-closed and abandoned mental hospital. She finds records indicating that Walter had been a patient there and she also finds a draft of the book with Walter's name in place of "Topsy Kretts" just as the form of a man approaches. Meanwhile, by taking every 23rd word on every 23rd page, Walter decodes a message: "Visit Casanova Spark dig beneath the steps too Heaven I warn you hell is waiting sparrow man". He leaves a note for Agatha, then he and Robin leave for the base of the Steps to Heaven - of course, there are 23 steps - located in Casanova's Park. At the park, Walter and Robin dig and uncover a skeleton. Just as they leave to fetch the cops, the sound of a mysterious person is heard approaching what must be Laura's grave. When the cops get there, her skeleton is gone. The cops dismiss Walter's and Robin's insistent assertions that a skeleton was found and is now missing. As the bewildered cops leave, Agatha and Isaac arrive.
The Crisis. As Walter, Agatha, and Robin drive home, Walter sees dirt in Agatha's fingernails. It was Isaac's form that Agatha saw in the ruin of a hospital. It was Isaac and Agatha who moved Laura's skeleton. Once home Walter claims that Agatha wrote the book to make it look like he wrote it. Then he accuses Agatha and Isaac of being in conspiracy to pin him with Laura's murder. He flees.
February 10. Walter returns to room 23 of the King Edward Hotel. While bolts of recollection flash through his mind, Walter tears down the crumbling wallpaper and finds the 23rd chapter beneath. Chapter 23: "You can call me Fingerling, but my real name is Walter, Walter Paul Sparrow." True recollection now floods Walter's brain. Recollection of his mother's suicide followed by his father's suicide. Recollection of his foster homes and of college and Laura Tollis, all the while pursued and tortured by the number 23. Recollection of betrayal, of Laura in the woods having sex with her professor, Kyle Flinch. Recollection of her rejection when he tried to save her from the number. Recollection of killing her and burying her beneath the Steps to Heaven. Recollection of Flinch's arrest. Recollection of the King Edward Hotel, room 23, and the suicide note that turned into a book. Recollection of obsession, insanity. Recollection of leaping out of the window and of his hospitalization.
Resolution. After Agatha pledges her love and loyalty over Walter's protestations that she can't love a killer, he flees the King Edward Hotel. On the street he flirts with suicide but his son's calls pull him back. Later, as he awaits sentencing for the murder of Laura Tollis, Walter contemplates that not all may be lost, that he's not the same man who wrote the book, and that he may qualify for early parole and reunion with his family.